Does The Desire For Prosperity Conflict With Religious Values?


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

The simple answer to this is linked to, but not the same as, another question, i.e., whether prosperity itself, rather than the desire for prosperity, conflicts with religious values. In other words, can one be rich and religious? The simple answer to that question is — yes.

Wealth in and of itself is not an impediment to religiosity. What is an impediment is whether one is a miser with what one has. Being a miser is totally in conflict with religious values. We are obliged to be kind, to see the material largesse with which we have been (hopefully) blessed, as a gift from God. And God has “asked” of us that we share. This means that miserliness is off limits.

Back to your question. You did not ask whether prosperity conflicts with religious values. You asked whether the desire for prosperity conflicts with religious values. That is a different question.

This is a question that has as its subtext the question of whether not being satisfied with one’s lot and wanting more, conflicts with religious values.. Should we be happy with what we have, and not seek more? That is a complicated question.

One could make the case that having enough to manage but wanting more may smack of ingratitude. On the other hand, why should we not be able to improve on the status quo without feeling that it is religiously wrong to do so?

Another factor in the question is that prosperity is a moving target. Today’s prosperity is tomorrow’s “just managing.” The desire for prosperity can easily evolve into an unending desire for more, with the attendant consequence that one will never be satisfied, and therefore never happy.

If the desire for prosperity causes unhappiness, then it is definitely in conflict with the Judaic value of being happy and grateful as critical to appreciating God and the world we live in.

After all these observations, a possible approach is that it is OK to desire future prosperity, as long as it is coupled with a genuine appreciation of present manageable circumstance; to at once be happy and seeking.

Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.

Christians believe that we are pilgrims in this life on a journey to our true and eternal home, the heavenly Jerusalem. Jesus, by his very life, debunked the idea that wealth was a sign of God’s favour: Jesus experienced profound poverty in descending from heaven to share with us the human condition as the great hymn in Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2: 5-7).

Jesus, in the Gospels, repeatedly reminds us that we are to look after the poor; they have a special place in God’s heart. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers that when they host a banquet they should not invite the rich, the powerful or the famous but rather “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk 14:13-14). St. John Chrysostom wrote: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. ”

Christians do not set their hearts on making money or prosperity, because God must have first place in our hearts as Jesus reminds his disciples: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21). Some of the unhappiest people I have met are the ones who are so wealthy that they forget they need God. We are not to make money, or success, or power more important than loving God and loving our neighbour.

KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the centre for Inquiry, Canada’s premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.

Let’s leave God out of this one. We’re told He created man in His image, but He shouldn’t take the heat for inventing religion. That’s something only males could have dreamed up. Religion does have some positive values, but it’s just so man-o-centric. And men are greedy.

We’ve always desired power and prosperity and we’ll do anything to achieve it. Think of King Henry VIII. Recently, Pope Benedict suggested a correlation between original sin and male greed. He cited the current economic crisis, caused by the male-dominated banking industry, a topic he should be well versed in, as the leader of a male-dominated religious empire. Blame it on our mojo, even when it’s repressed.

We can’t deny that when some men tread into certain faiths, their prosperity reigns supreme. Many of the old-time religions are so entrenched in society, their patriarchal system is blindly accepted as normal.

But it’s no different than the new breeds. Ron L Hubbard once stated, “I want to start a religion. That’s where the money is,” years before he founded Scientology, his sci-fi global outreach experiment, now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Suitably named evangelist Creflo Dollar teaches prosperity theology, the belief that financial blessings are the will of God. Practising what he preaches, this boy with his toys flies in his own jet, when he doesn’t feel like driving the Rolls.

Those who aren’t envious over who wears the bigger hat — women — tend to be more honest, gentle and compassionate: all traits of the biblical Jesus.

“Sure, God created man before woman. But then you always make a rough draft before the final masterpiece.” I suspect a man, confident in himself, yet accepting the qualities of the fairer sex, wrote this anonymous quote. I’d bet my BMW on it.

Rev. RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.

There is the false impression that all Buddhists want to abandon material prosperity, shave their heads and relocate to a mountain top. The Buddhaway asks no such absurd behaviour.

Buddhists are guided by precepts which are few, simple and open-ended. They allow us to interpret them according to our circumstance, aspiration and the larger body of Buddhist teaching. For us, the relevant precept here would be the eighth, which, in part, says: “I vow to challenge the promises of consumption, to restrain my use of luxuries, to avoid ... exploitation of the vulnerable ... and find skilful ways to use my material prosperity to fulfil all (eight) of these vows.”

Material prosperity in the Buddhist life is never an end in itself, the way it can be for many secular people. Material prosperity is instrumental — it facilitates our fulfilling a larger purpose — compassionate service to all beings. We understand that everything is transient and so prosperity itself is fleeting, never the solution to the predicament of human suffering. Further, we understand that prosperity comes at a cost to ourselves and others — people, animals and the environment.

The desire for prosperity is more important than what one possesses. Attachment, in the sense of grasping on to what is fleeting, is recognized as the cause of our sorrow. Should we, in the course of our lives, gain or lose wealth, this in itself is neither helpful or otherwise. The crucial factors are the intention and action. A poor person can be as attached to a few coins as a millionaire to great wealth. A wealthy person can be a great and generous benefactor, using their wealth for the benefit of others. Are we trying to hold or inflate the ever-changing my-me-mine we imagine, or are we making use of this precious human life to effect the awakening of all our fellow beings?

ABDUL RASHID is a member of the Ottawa Muslim community, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue and the Capital Region Interfaith Council.

The Holy Qur’an tells us that God Almighty has created whatever is in the world for the benefit of humanity. “And He has subjected to you (as a gift) from Him all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold in that are Signs indeed for those who reflect” (45:13).

While the essentials for life — like air and water — are free for all, other things require compensation to obtain and use. Since to enjoy comfort and a high standard of living are common human desires, only those who are prosperous can obtain these.

While Islam abhors asceticism, it also condemns extravagance. The Divine command is to enjoy God’s blessings “and eat and drink: but waste not by excess for God does not love not the wasters” (7:31).

Islam does not consider possession of wealth and good things of life contrary to piety. A believer considers prosperity a gift of God Almighty. He or she is full of gratitude and love for the Merciful Creator. The way to express this love and gratitude is “to spend of your substance out of love for Him for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practise regular charity” (2:177).

God Almighty says: “That which is on earth We have made but as a glittering show for the earth in order that We may test them as to which of them (human beings) are best in conduct” (18:7). The Holy Qur’an emphasizes, repeatedly, that this conduct lies in recognizing the importance of sharing of our well-being with those who are in need.

BALPREET SINGH is legal cousel and acting executive director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

I n the Sikh faith, the values we hold as essential are spirituality, equality of all, compassion and selfless service. If we look at prosperity simply as having the most money and material possessions, then it can probably be referred to as greed and it does, indeed, conflict with religious values.

Sikhs aren’t taught to renounce the world or to forsake their personal wealth and possessions. But, at the same time, it is important to understand that material possessions are not the source of happiness or “prosperity.” Prosperity is about inner tranquility and contentment, and the Sikh Gurus taught that these are not possible without having a spiritual relationship with God.

The path to prosperity for Sikhs is threefold: meditate on naam (God’s name), earn an honest living and finally share those earnings with others. Each of these three principles addresses a different kind of wealth and prosperity. Meditation on naam creates spiritual wealth and builds inner strength; earning an honest living allows an individual to have the material resources needed to live in the world; and finally, sharing one’s earnings helps create a harmonious society in which no one goes without.

A view of prosperity as simply having the most money creates a selfish and destructive attitude. Such an attitude is guided by self-interest and does not allow an individual to live in harmony with others. Guru Nanak describes a self-interested person as follows: “Whatever he takes, he does not share with others. Seeking to earn more and more, he is troubled and uneasy.” (ang 1412).

True prosperity is much more holistic than just personal wealth and does not conflict with religious values in any way. But if one defines prosperity as simply having the most money and possessions, then that is not only in conflict with religious values, but also social values.

JACK MCLEAN is Bahà’i scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of sprituality, Bahà’i theology and poetry.

The desire for prosperity/wealth is entirely compatible with religious values. Prosperity or wealth are necessary to provide for one’s family and oneself, to perform acts of charity for the relief of the poor and unfortunate, to promote the interests and institutions of the Bahá’í Faith, and to administer socio-economic projects that will benefit both developing and developed nations.

Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the youngest of the world’s religions, advises that wealth is actually necessary for the responsible person, once maturity is attained. The inference here is that the immature person can squander wealth or harm himself or others by misusing it: “Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom … ” (Tablets, p. 34).

However, to be of lasting benefit, material means must rest firmly on moral and spiritual principles. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son, successor and interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, advised: “Until material achievements, physical accomplishments and human virtues are reinforced by spiritual perfections, luminous qualities and characteristics of mercy, no fruit or result shall issue therefrom, nor will the happiness of the world of humanity, which is the ultimate aim, be attained” (Selections, p. 283). History confirms this assertion.

In 1996, the Bahá’í International Community’s Office of Public Information at the United Nations issued “The Prosperity of Humankind,” an incisive statement that explored ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s claim. Rejecting purely materialistic approaches to development, the authors maintained: “It is unrealistic to imagine that the vision of the next stage in the advancement of civilization can be formulated without a searching re-examination of the attitudes and assumptions that currently underlie approaches to social and economic development” (p. 5).

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ੴ / Ik▫oaʼnkār
Dec 21, 2010
There is nothing in Sikhism against health, wealth and happiness for self, family, community and all.

The means and management of achieving all this is where the contentment, real happiness and peace will be found.
But to each their own as each has their own levels of managing the so called five thieves which invariably get engaged in this activity to a small or large extent before, during and after achievement

Sat Sri Akal.


Aug 12, 2010
I don't think most religions are against anyone making money. Religious leaders are sometimes the richest people (Mega Church Pastors, The Catholic Church, Dalai Lama, etc).

However there may be a problem if your occupation goes against a key tenet of your religion. There may be a problem if a "Jain" were to become the new CEO of McDonalds for helping to successfully market a Triple 1/4 Pounder.

Joginder Singh Foley

Jan 26, 2008
Stoke On Trent
WJKKWJKF Sat Siri akal

Modesty is one of the Greatest virtues of a Sikh Though I see no real problem if it is honestly earned through legal and Hard work deffo not in the style of banksters playing the casinos in the city of london or wall street our our on the take and on the make politicians and remember when VAHEGURU calls you on to the next life or Sach Khand, it wont be your wealth going with you



Dec 3, 2011
One can be rich and religious, no doubt. One can commit crimes and still be religous.

Prosperity, the desire for it, does conflict to attaining religous values. I have yet to come acrosss a true person with a desire for money who has a very tight hold on faith.

Many are aware, they convince themselves that their hold or desire for wealth is not as strong as their desire for faith.

Many also convince themselves that money,posessions don't make them better and won't buy happiness etc....etc.... However, what is it really that get's these people out of bed in the morning?? -They will convince themselves and others that it is the need for money.

Sar Kartar
Lucky Singh

Harry Haller

Panga Master
Jan 31, 2011

my own two penth

I do not believe there is anything wrong with being rich, or wanting to be rich, provided you get there through Hukam, and once you are there, you behave with Hukam.

I, for instance, wish to buy a farm, not a huge farm, but somewhere I can raise a few pigs, chickens, veg, and run a boarding kennels for dogs and cats, whilst also rescuing animals that are homeless. The cost is not huge, hopefully less than the cost of a modest family house, but that is mine and Wifes dream, it is what we work towards, I see no problem with that provided We both work within Hukam, and once we have the farm, use it to help people and animals as per Hukam,

I know many rich people that do much for society, eye camps etc, they live quite modestly, with little show of wealth


Dec 3, 2011
Harry ji

I agree, there is nothing wrong with being or wanting to be rich.
The farmhouse with dog kennels etc... you mention, seems to be very popular with the punjabis here in Vancouver. I actually know a few families.

You mention behaving in hukam. In all fairness, this is also very good practice.
However, it is important to try and realise that you do not use this as a way of convincing yourself. Lots of us do this without realising.

There are plenty of rich people that I know and have known. I have always known for them to have their set limits though.For eg. You decide to help a homeless shelter as they need more beds/supplies lets say. You ask how much. They say 20,000 to take them through 6 months. However, your pre- set mental limit was 10,000. Assume you have the full 20 for disposal but intended on using 10 for upgrading your car.
Do you stick to your mental pre set limit and just say heres 10 OR do you (without too much hesitation) give the full 20 and say to yourself-the car upgrade can wait 6 months or so?

I don't really want you to give me your personal answer. The scenario should make you realise what the majority would do without hesitating. This is what I'm trying to get across.
I'm not trying to find out who is the most generous from the replies that they post.

Sar kartar
Lucky Singh

Harry Haller

Panga Master
Jan 31, 2011
I think we all know when we are in Hukam and when we are not, to say one can be in Hukam without realising it is a concept I am unfamiliar with, a bit like saying one can be madly in love, and not realise it, I had hoped to be in Hukam today, but have failed miserably and it is only 9am! Hukam is eating porridge and then reading some Bani, so far I have eaten 3 chocolate bars, a large can of energy drink, read The Sun, and told 2 white lies, I am not in Hukam, and I know it, if you are in Hukam and do not know it, how do you know where you are lol
Feb 23, 2012
United Kingdom
My dear brothers and sisters 0:)

Having wealth is certainly not a barrier to leading a holy life. Neither is it, in and of itself, good. It is morally neutral, its what you do with money that determines whether it is a blessing or a curse and that depends upon the individual person.

Many people misinterpret Jesus as having been against wealth. The famous saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!" immediately springs to most peoples heads.

In fact Jesus' closest friends were Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany who were probably the wealthiest family in Judea at that time! They are most likely the same people as the Ben Boethus family recorded in the Jewish Talmud.

Mary Magdalene was also a very wealthy, self-made woman with her own business. Jesus' ministry was funded by selfless rich people who freely gave of their resources to support the Jesus Movement.

And interestingly enough, the Gospel of Luke records Jesus as saying:

"...I tell you, use worldly wealth to benefit others and gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.</SPAN> So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?</SPAN> And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?..."

- Jesus Christ (Luke 16:9-12)

Jesus is saying that people who are rich on earth but who lead charitable lives, gain the friendship of the saints and of God and so therefore have proven that they are worthy of being endowed with true, spiritual riches after their death. Likewise if a person on earth is dishonest and selfish with his wealth then he has proven that he is not worthy of spiritual riches - since the latter are truly incomparably greater than the former.

Wealth thus acts as a test for human beings. It reveals what is truly in a person's heart, for Jesus also said:

"...Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also..."

- Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:21)

If a wealthy person has his heart set on God and uses his resources both to support his own family and strive after the common good, then he truly has his "treasure in heaven" and his heart in the correct place.

And so hence why the Bible praises a holy rich man:

"...Use your wealth as the Most High has commanded; this will do you more good than keeping your money for yourself. Count among your treasures the fact that you give to the poor. It will save you from all kinds of trouble and will be a better defense against your enemies than the strongest shield or stoutest spear [...] Blessed is the rich man who is found blameless [...] Who is he? And we will call him blessed, for he has done wonderful things among his people. Who has been tested by it and been found perfect. Let it be for him a ground for boasting. Who has had the power to transgress and did not transgress, and to do evil and did not do it? His prosperity will be established, and the assembly will relate his acts of charity..."

- Sirach (29:-11:13.31:8-11)

There is thus nothing wrong with wealth. It is one's attitude to wealth that is crucial. Wealth is like a test for us. The more wealth one has, the more temptations one has and the more one resists those temptations, and wars against egotism, the more blessed a person is.

Much love peacesign</SPAN>